World Cup: Croatia oust favourites Brazil on penalties to reach semi-finals
DOHA – Before the World Cup in Qatar kicked off in November, Brazilian right winger Raphinha claimed that he and his teammates had rehearsed 10 dance moves for every match, one for each goal until the 10th should there be a goal fest.
But there was no partying at the Education City Stadium on Friday. Instead, the five-time world champions received a lesson in resilience and sheer determination from the Croatians, who came from behind to draw the match 1-1 in extra time, before winning the tie 4-2 on penalties.
The first half produced no goals but plenty of action as the Croats showed that they were no underdogs by matching the Selecao stride for stride, pressing the South Americans whenever a chance arose.
Brazil, playing in their seventh successive World Cup quarter-final, were on the front foot as early as the fifth minute.
Vinicius Junior, on his favourite left side, tried his luck from the edge of the box but his shot was too weak to get past Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
If anything, 2018 finalists Croatia enjoyed the best chance of the half, when, after 13 minutes, Ivan Perisic could only miss-cue a whipped Mario Pasalic cross past Alisson’s goalpost.
Tite’s men then had a scare two minutes later, when Casemiro lost the ball to Luka Modric just outside the Brazil box but thankfully for them, no harm was done following a cross from the veteran midfielder.
Just before the break, Neymar fired a free kick but it went straight into Livakovic’s hands in the middle of the goal.
Brazil then went up a gear as soon as the second half kicked off, pressing Croatia in their half which resulted in Josip Juranovic seemingly handling the ball in the area in the 48th minute. But after a video assistant referee (VAR) check, no penalty was given.
The Brazilians kept up the pressure and Neymar nearly scored in the 55th minute following a defence-splitting pass, but Livakovic pulled off an easy save.
The Croatia goalkeeper then brilliantly kept out Lucas Paqueta 11 minutes later from a tremendous drive inside the box, and produced yet another big save with his leg from Neymar in the 76th minute.
Brazil appeared to have sealed the win in extra time when Neymar powered into the box after an exchange with Rodrygo and Pedro to score from a tight angle and equal Brazil legend Pele’s all-time record tally of 77.
With the clock ticking in the second period of extra time, the Croatians refused to throw in the towel as Bruno Petkovic latched onto an incisive pass from Modric in the 116th minute to take his first shot on goal, with a slight deflection from Marquinhos sending the ball whistling into the bottom left.
The drama and tension continued to build as both teams faced off in the penalty shootout, with Livakovic saving Rodrygo’s spot kick and Marquinos hitting the post as the Croatians sent Brazil packing with a 4-2 win.
Croatia will face either Argentina or the Netherlands in the semi-finals. - AFP, REUTERS